Whether you are at current risk for lymphedema or just want to prevent it, you can use both tried-and-true ways and new technology to make sure your lymphatics system is healthy and keeps flowing!
Why is the Lymphatic System Important?
Our miraculous body has multiple ways of removing toxins from the body. The lymph system spans almost the entire body and is a complex system of “waystations” for processing toxins. It goes along major veins and arteries from the neck to the knees and along the arms to the elbow.
The lymph nodes are important “waystations” situated along this route. There are between 500 – 600 of them, with clusters occurring in the abdomen, the groin, the underarms, and the neck.
A complex arrangement of organs and tissues work together to move lymph fluid along the route. Lymph is a milky-white fluid that moves toxins as well as immune system substances along until the lymph system eventually merges with the bloodstream.
As a side note, did you know that some common organs such as the tonsils, the adenoids, the appendix, Peyer’s Patches in the intestines, and the thymus gland are all part of the lymph system? The thymus is considered the main organ of the system.
Even though the lymphatic’s primary job is to move toxins from their point of origin to the liver, it is part of the immune system as well. Lymph is vital for defending against viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. Close to 20 liters of lymph fluid is pumped through the system each day, transporting white blood cells and vital immune system cells throughout the body.
Why Does Lymphedema Occur?
Lymphedema happens when too much plasma, or protein-rich fluid, builds up in a particular area of the body. It is of most concern to women who have had one or several lymph nodes removed as part of conventional Breast Cancer surgery as well as those who have had radiation therapy for Breast Cancer. Also at risk for this potentially-debilitating condition are people with diabetes and pregnant women, as well as anyone who leads a generally sedentary lifestyle.
Of course, when this “backlog” of fluid occurs, it creates a chain reaction of negative consequences for the body. Think what happens when a major traffic jam occurs! People get mad (inflammation), appointments are lost (imbalance), and wasted gas (energy) is spent.
Lymphedema occurs most often in the extremities. For people who have had lymph nodes removed as part of standard cancer treatment, lymphedema in the auxiliary nodes under the armpits is common as well.
The National Cancer Institute estimates that close to 20% of all women who have had Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (NLNB) as part of conventional Breast Cancer treatment will also develop lymphedema. Up to half of all women with Breast Cancer who have had Auxiliary Lymph Node Dissection (ALND) will get it.
A sluggish lymph system can lead to a build-up of toxins in the liver. Inflammation and an overwhelmed immune system may result as well. When lymphedema goes unchecked, it can also lead to a condition called edema. This is characterized by swelling in the extremities. Fibrosis develops when fluid is stagnant in an area for too long and tissues begin to thicken and harden.
Lymphedema can also raise your risk of Breast Cancer and cancer reoccurrence. Natural Killer cells are immune system cells that are specifically designed to target cancer cells and destroy them. One of the places in the body where they are produced is in the lymph nodes. Any blockage in the flow of fluid through the lymph system is going to severely reduce the number of NK cells that are produced.
What You Can Do About Lymphedema
Even if you have had one, two, or several lymph nodes removed or damaged as part of traditional cancer treatment, you can prevent lymphedema and have a robust detoxification system by making some simple lifestyle changes.
It’s all about keeping that lymph fluid flowing! That is when the magic happens for immune protection, detoxification, and much more.
#1 Make Dietary Changes to Support Your Lymph System
A healthy diet can definitely support your lymphatic system. As it turns out, the lymphatic system is intricately connected to the digestive system too. When you eat a diet that strengthens your gut microbiota and increases good bacteria, you are strengthening lymphatic flow.
Getting enough nourishing minerals such as zinc and magnesium can definitely help lymphatics as well as foods that are high in antioxidants and chlorophyll, such as leafy greens.
Chlorophyll in particular is really good for your lymph system. it is a detoxifier, a chelator for heavy metals, and helps pump oxygen into the bloodstream.
Lymphatic fluid is mostly water, so make sure you are getting enough of it every day. Drink at least half your weight in ounces every day and make sure your water is free from fluoride, chlorine, and unnecessary chemicals (also, no plastic water bottles!).
#2 Make Lifestyle Changes to Encourage Lymph Movement
Now let’s talk about exercise. This is probably the most important thing you can do to help your lymphatic system. A healthy lymph system relies on you moving your body. According to experts, the best kind of movement to get the lymph flowing is a fun exercise called rebounding.
Rebounding uses specific equipment that allows the body to “bounce” and get the blood flowing. You can use a mini trampoline, a big round ball, or even a pair of fancy “jumpers,” which are shoes that have oval plastic “bouncers” attached to the bottom!
On the other hand, simply taking a walk or doing some light stretches can get lymph moving. The main thing is consistency. Make a commitment to do some form of movement every day.
Finally, incorporate the act of dry brushing into your daily routine, preferable in the morning since dry brushing can sometimes be stimulating for the entire system. Dry brushing is a modality that goes back thousands of years. It has been proven in several modern studies to work wonders for getting the lymph moving again. Find out more about dry skin brushing, why it works, and how to do it HERE.
#3 Utilize natural healing technology to support your lymph system.
There are some amazing new modalities out there to help you detoxify and support your lymphatics system. These modalities use light and vibration.
The first bit of technology is a simple unit called a pneumatic or compression pump. It has been used for decades and is great when lymphedema flairs up. It is also beneficial to use when you are going to be inactive for long periods of time, such as on an airplane or on a long car ride. People usually use compression or pneumatic pumps on their arms or legs.
Another useful and very effective technology that can really help lymphedema is called ELDT, or Electro Lymphatic Decongestive Therapy. This fascinating modality utilizes light, electrical waves, and vibration to clear lymph pathways.
By stimulating the lymph flow, toxins are able to pass through lymph channels easier and immune function can be restored. ELDT also helps to reduce inflammation. A pilot study conducted in Italy in 2014 found that ELDT helped symptoms of edema with no side effects. ELDT is very non-invasive. I can attest that it is also very relaxing!
Another therapy that uses light and vibration to get the lymph moving again is called Electro-Lymphatic Therapy (ELT) ELT is similar to ELDT except that the practitioner uses a hand-held wand which is swept over the body. Both ELDT and ELT break up proteins that have been trapped in the interstitium to allow lymph fluid to flow.
Be “Proactive with Prevention” for Both Lymphedema and Breast Cancer!
The final technology I would like to talk about when it comes to lymphatic health is thermography. Thermography is a good choice to monitor your sensitive lymph nodes under the armpit, on the chest, and on the neck. A scan will be able to detect points of inflammation and congestion in those areas.
Be sure to tune in to this week’s Wellness Warrior podcast to hear my interview with thermographer Francine van Broekhoven. Learn how thermography can help you be “proactive with prevention” for both Breast Cancer and lymphedema!